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Fired APD officer: Don’t turn on cameras

Former Albuquerque Police Department Officer John Hill.

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The former Albuquerque police officer who pleaded no contest Thursday to battery had told multiple officers not to turn on their lapel cameras before he pushed a handcuffed suspect into a holding cell wall in February.

That finding and several others are contained in an internal affairs investigation released to the Journal this week in response to a request under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.

In August, officer John Hill, 41, was fired and officer Christopher Duda was suspended following an investigation into their actions during the booking of Jackson Howe.

Officer Christopher Duda (Source: APD)

Investigators found Howe was being compliant, not thrashing around, as he was led to the holding cell and there was “no apparent reason for him to be pushed or forced into the cell.”

The investigation found that Hill’s conduct during the incident was “unprofessional, shameful and unbecoming of an officer.”

On Thursday, Hill was sentenced to unsupervised probation after pleading no contest to battery, a petty misdemeanor, for using unnecessary force against Howe. Hill’s lawyer has appealed the officer’s termination.

A seven-year veteran of the department, Hill was also a member of the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association executive board before his termination. He had also received crisis intervention training in 2014 and was in an officer-involved shooting late last year.

Officer Chris Duda was suspended for 80 hours for not intervening, not turning on his lapel camera and not reporting the unnecessary use of force to a superior.

“Hopefully he will become a role model for other officers as a result of the take-aways and lessons learned from this experience,” Chief Michael Geier wrote in an email to investigators.

Duda is a three-year veteran of the department and was involved in two officer-involved shootings late last year, one at an apartment complex and another during a traffic stop. Both of those suspects ended up dead.

Neither Hill’s lawyer, John D’Amato, nor Shaun Willoughby, president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, would comment on the internal affairs investigation’s findings.

Howe’s attorney, Ryan Villa, said he had not seen the IA case file but was pleased with the city and District Attorney’s decision to terminate and prosecute Hill.

The investigation stemmed from a Feb. 17 incident at the southeast substation. According to that investigation:

Howe, a transgender woman, was brought in for disorderly conduct, trespassing and attempted battery charges after reportedly causing a disturbance at a university-area church. Once at the police station, Howe became belligerent with the female officer who arrested her, calling her a racial slur and saying the officer’s mother had been raped. Hill told Howe to “shut the (expletive) up” and escorted her to a holding cell. Duda told investigators Hill said “something along the lines” of “make sure your camera is off.”

Duda said Hill was “very serious” and looking at Howe with a “1,000 yard stare.”

As Hill and Duda approached the cell with Howe, Hill turned and told the other officers “I got this, I’m good.” Inside the cell, officer Duda told Hill he was going to turn on his lapel camera and Hill replied “No, don’t go live.”

Then Hill pushed Howe into the wall, grabbed her collar, and said “you don’t talk to girls that way” before shoving her onto the bench. After the incident, Hill told Duda he had pushed Howe and said “don’t cover for me.”

During an interview, Hill admitted to investigators he used profanity, told the other officers not to turn on their lapel cameras and pushed Howe into the wall. Hill told investigators he did not believe it was a reportable use of force because Howe “did not strike the wall that hard.”

In his most recent report, the independent monitor identified a trend of officers “making excuses” for not activating lapel cameras, muting them or turning them off in the middle of recording as well as a “willingness by superiors to accept the excuses.”

“We see this as a significant problem that needs to be addressed by APD,” the monitor wrote. “… The number of cases where (lapel cameras) are not recording, or cease to record, is a matter of serious concern.”

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